Rachel Dolezal, a 37-year-old former Spokane, Washington, NAACP leader born to white parents, avoided questions about her background and ethnicity until Tuesday morning, when she declared, “I identify as black.” In an interview with journalist Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show, Dolezal began to explain why she actively hid the identity of her parents and took on the identity of an African American woman.
As a child, she said, "I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon. It was a little more complex than me identifying as black."
Dolezal, who has been the subject of both discussions about racial and gender identity as well as jokes about her bronzed skin and culturally black hairdo, was "outed" as white last week by her parents. Controversy grew quickly around the Eastern Washington University Africana studies professor, who was challenged over her claims of being a hate crime victim and for suing Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., for white discrimination while she was a student there.
"As much as this discussion has somewhat been at my expense recently and in a very sort of viciously inhumane way come out of the woodwork, the discussion is really about what it is to be human," Dolezal told Lauer. "I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self-determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment."
Citing the ongoing controversy, Dolezal resigned as president of the Spokane NAACP branch Monday. "It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the presidency,” she said in a statement announcing her resignation.
Dolezal still faces a city ethics investigation in Spokane, after reports surfaced alleging she lied about her ethnicity when she identified as black on an application to serve on a civic commission.